Why do cicadas sing?

Q. Why do cicadas sing?

Stan from Berlin Center

A. If you have cicadas in your area this year, you know they are there by the loud noises they have been making the past couple of weeks.

While emergence has been spotty across the Mahoning Valley, major hot spots to hear them singing include Austintown, Berlin Center and Howland. For even better spots, consider East Palestine, Lisbon and the greater Pittsburgh area.

Details of sightings can be found on the map in the app called “Cicada Safari.”

You would think the cicadas would just be singing because they’re happy to be above ground after 17 years of getting nourishment in the dark from the roots of the trees above.

But, they have a clear-cut reason for the noise. The singing of the male cicada is actually a species specific mating call that can be heard by females up to a mile away. Each of the four species of cicadas have a different song they sing to attract their specific females.

After emerging from the soil, male cicadas mature from nymphs into adults and start singing to attract a female. Once they have mated, the female lays her eggs in tree limbs the size of a pencil, and the cycle continues for the next 17 years until the next brood emerges.

Male cicadas produce their calls by rapidly vibrating a white, drum-like plate or tymbal, located on either side of their abdomens that is amplified by the insect’s mostly hollow body.

Depending on the species, cicadas will sing based on the number and proximity of other cicadas in their area. When enough cicadas are in a given area, the males will synchronize their songs forming a chorus to attract females. A chorus of cicadas can reach volumes greater than 100 decibels, which is louder than a lawn mower.

Most sing during the day. Most prefer the sun, so rain and cloudy skies will decrease the amount of singing. Temperature can also affect whether cicadas sing.

Enjoy this spectacle of nature with the windows open. It only happens once every 17 years.

Pam Baytos, an OSU Extension master gardener volunteer in Mahoning County, provided today’s answer. Call 330-533-5538 to submit your questions. Regular clinic hours are 9 a.m. to noon Mondays and Thursdays.

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